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Back home: Bilbao – Portsmouth ferry

We depart our beach lay-by at Barrio Oriñón on Tuesday 23 April at 1000 in cold drizzly rain and drive the 37 km to the ferry at Zierbena, west of Bilbao, arriving at 1030. The roadsigns aren’t very clear, particularly in the spray and rain. We take at least one wrong turn to find the correct dock but finally reach the Brittany Ferry departure quay, have a quick visit from the Guardia Civil (apparently looking for illegal migrants, but very polite and friendly) and take our place in the queue of motorbikes, cars and camper vans. Once on board, we find our cabin on deck 9 and reserve a table for supper, finding out that we’ll be gaining an hour as the ship uses UK time, so supper at 8pm will feel a bit late. Chatting in one of the lounges we notice that the boat doesn’t actually leave until 1500 – two hours late, but apparently this will not affect the arrival time in Portsmouth.

The crossing is smooth, with Biscay looking like a mill pond! Despite scanning the ocean from our cabin window and the upper decks, we see neither dolphin nor whales. There’s a few seabirds, including a gannet though.We enjoy an excellent supper in the Azul Restaurant watching the sun go down and have a very good night’s sleep in the well-appointed cabin. Taking breakfast and lunch in the restaurant seems to offer very good value and we dock in Portsmouth on time at 1730, disembarking from our ‘pole position’ on the vehicle deck at 1745 to queue for UK Border Force. It’s a very different welcome than the Guardia Civil – also looking for immigrants an officious individual insists on actually coming into the van, pushing Bev aside, to check no-one is hiding under the bed or in the toilet! “Have you checked no-one has got on board since you left on the ferry?!!!” he demands and “I need to do my job” with neither a smile nor pleasant word. Where does Border Force find these people? Welcome home indeed!

After spending an enjoyable evening with Kate, Simone, Giacomo and Roberta we have morning coffee with Kate before driving home. First stop is a garage where we fill up with 80 litres . . . the tank was on ‘reserve’ but we hadn’t noticed! Reaching home mid-afternoon, we take the van up to the house to unload before returning it to the farm at Grangemill coming back home in the Freelander (with the Mazda battery, which is completely flat, to charge overnight).

Stats. and route maps for this trip are now published. In summary it’s 66 days in Schengen and just under 5,000 miles of driving in France, Spain and Portugal.